« Don’t make me feel ashamed, it’s the only thing I ask you… ».
The story of the most emblematic Viennese pastry begins with these words.
And it’s often the same story. Exactly like the Madeleine of Commercy in France or the Trdelník of Skalika in Slovakia: one day, an earl, a duke or a prince orders to his pâtissier a special delicacy that will impress some particularly demanding guests, just for a dinner. The posterity will take care of the rest.
We are in Vienna, in 1832, and the Austrian prince Klemens of Metternich – the great diplomat and statesman who chaired the Congress of Vienna in 1815 – hosts important guests. The chef is sick, and has to stay in bed. There’s still Franz Sacher, apprentice for two years, but he’s just sixteen. « Don’t make me ashamed, it’s the only thing that I ask you… ». The situation is delicate and Metternich expects a dinner and especially a dessert that will please the delicate palates of his guests without putting his rank in jeopardy.
Franz Sacher is only sixteen but he already has the makings of a great chef. He tackles the task and serves, on this evening, a light chocolate Genoise horizontally crossed by a thin layer of apricot marmelade and wrapped with a dark chocolate frosting. The guests enjoyed, the prince wasn’t ashamed and then, everybody forgot…
… Until 1848, when Franz Sacher opened his own house in Vienna, after spending some time in Pressburg (today Bratislava) and Budapest. His son, Eduard, trained at Demel – then official pâtissier of the imperial court. The second generation perfected the recipe of what we know and savor nowadays as the Sachertorte. In 1876, Sacher son and Demel opened the Hotel Sacher where 130 years later, in 2006, more than 200 000 Sachertorten are served every year, with a traditional Viennese whipped cream (Schlagobers), like I tasted it.
Sacher is now an empire: around 900 cakes made per day – up to 3 000 before Christmas, in a workshop located in Simmering, where the Sacher house moved in 1999; the basement of the hotel had become too cramped. Sacher, it’s also 1 200 000 eggs per year, 75 tons of chocolate, 80 tons of sugar to follow exactly the traditional, 36-step, safe-kept recipe of the Sachertorte.
A seven-year-long judicial contest made the Sachertorte much more famous. A process between Sacher and Demel divided Vienna in two factions. The parents teared each other to pieces to know who will get the custody of the sweet Genoise that laid the golden eggs. One says that the third generation of Sacher sold the original recipe to Demel. However Sacher won and in 1962 the Austrian Supreme Court confirmed that decision: the whole paternity was assigned to Sacher. Basically, hadn’t the cake always had that name? At Demel they could no longer serve Sachertorten, so, they served first Ur-Sachertorten, « original Sachertorten », then Demel Sachertorten, different from Sacher, because the warm apricot marmelade wraps the Genoise before the frosting.
Today their relationship is friendly but the subject is still delicate, even if the two brands like to use this common history for commercial purposes.
In any case, the Sachertorte has fervent fans; ask Nanni Moretti for example, the Italian movie director, who named his production company Sacher Films, his distribution company Sacher Distribuzione, his Roman cinema the Cinema Nuovo Sacher, his short film festival the Sacher Festival, etc, etc.